Schools are adopting more and more stringent “touch policies” regulating how teachers may physically interact with their students. Some argue that these policies are misguided, but I say, “Better safe than sorry.”
Touch is powerful. Touch is intimate. And although the vast majority of our country’s teachers understand the appropriate use of touch when it comes to their students, and many parents worry that “no-touch” policies go too far, I would much rather err on the side of safety when it comes to how educators are allowed to touch my children. Much of the reason for that is based on my experiences working with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.
I spent seven years working as a crisis counselor. One of the first things I learned when I was trained was that touch was not part of that work — there were no hugs, no arms around shoulders, no pats on the back unless they were initiated by the woman I was working with. Part of a survivor’s healing process is regaining their autonomy over their bodies, so helping them create those boundaries and then respecting them is critical. Children have similar needs — they need to develop a sense of ownership about their bodies and gain the confidence to make their own decisions about what they are comfortable with. It’s the reason why I have never demanded that my kids give Grandma a hug and a kiss — because it is their body, and, therefore, their choice to make. And the relationship between bodies and power — particularly for girls — is an important one.
Just as I am in a position of authority over my kids as a parent, so are teachers their authority figures at school. Do I want them to trust authority figures? Sort of. I want them to respect authority (when deserved) while also respecting themselves and their comfort levels. Because this isn’t just about assault — people have different levels of comfort when it comes to touch, and should be able to determine for themselves when, how and with whom they engage in such intimate gestures.
I don’t enjoy being touched. I hate having my arm stroked, I don’t like to hug people I haven’t known for years and years and I don’t want a pat on the back. I love to cuddle with my kids, my husband and my mother, but that’s about it. Being touched by strangers makes me deeply uncomfortable and afraid — the idea of touch being limited and regulated does not seem cold to me, rather, it seems safe and comforting. The more control a human being has over their mind and body, the more powerful they feel. And I want my children to feel powerful.
Are we in danger of going too far? Are we turning all touch into “bad touch” and teaching our children to distrust adults? Maybe. But while I’d hate to see teachers holding a student at arm’s length who wants to come in for a hug, for example, I would much rather that children have strict standards at school regarding physical touch than not. To me, safety and respect far outweigh the niceties of touch.